[WSMDiscuss] One hero is not enough: finding strength In numbers, solutions in solidarity

Marcus Denton mdenton0 at gmail.com
Wed Apr 3 06:00:33 CEST 2019

Reposting article after article. Mueller as a great hope. 9/11 conspiracy

Perhaps this might be a time to rethink the purpose of this email list?

On Tue, Apr 2, 2019, 8:17 PM Ariel Salleh via WSM-Discuss <
wsm-discuss at lists.openspaceforum.net> wrote:

> I had great hopes of Mueller.
> But then again, he heavily redacted an independent congress/senate
> investigation into 9/11 - so we are still in the dark about that too.
> On 3 Apr 2019, at 7:29 AM, Brian K Murphy <brian at radicalroad.com> wrote:
> https://lithub.com/rebecca-solnit-when-the-hero-is-the-problem/
> When the Hero is the Problem
> On Robert Mueller, Greta Thunberg, and Finding Strength In Numbers
> by  Rebecca Solnit | Literary Hub, April 2, 2o19
> > For an embodiment of the word, singlehanded, you might turn to the
> heroine of the the recent movie Woman at War. It’s about an Icelandic
> eco-saboteur who blows up rural power lines and hides in scenic spots from
> helicopters hunting her, and is pretty good with a bow and arrow.
> >
> > But the most famous and effective eco-sabotage in the island’s history
> was not singlehanded.
> >
> > In a farming valley on the Laxa River in northern Iceland in August 25,
> 1970, community members blew up a dam to protect farmland from being
> flooded. After the dam was dynamited, more than a hundred farmers claimed
> credit (or responsibility). There were no arrests, and there was no dam,
> and there were some very positive consequences, including protection of the
> immediate region and new Icelandic environmental regulations and awareness.
> It’s almost the only story I know of environmental sabotage having a
> significant impact, and it may be because it expressed the will of the
> many, not the few.
> >
> > We are not very good at telling stories about a hundred people doing
> things, or considering that the qualities that matter in saving a valley or
> changing the world are mostly not physical courage and violent clashes but
> the ability to coordinate, and inspire, and connect with lots of other
> people and create stories about what could be, and how we get there. Back
> in 1970, the (Icelandic) farmers did produce a nice explosion, and movies
> love explosions almost as much as car chases, but it came at the end of
> what must have been a lot of meetings—and movies hate meetings.
> >
> > Halla, the middle-aged protagonist of Woman at War is also a choir
> director, and being good at getting a group to sing in harmony has more to
> do with how most environmental battles are actually won than her solo
> exertions. The movie—which keeps lingering without irony on pictures in her
> Reykjavik flat of negotiations-and-meetings endurance champions, Gandhi and
> Mandela—doesn’t seem to know it, but it also doesn’t seem to care about how
> you do this thing that saves rivers or islands or the earth.
> >
> > Positive social change results mostly from connecting more deeply to the
> people around you than rising above them, from coordinated rather than solo
> action. Among the virtues that matter are those traditionally considered
> feminine rather than masculine, more nerd than jock: listening, respect,
> patience, negotiation, strategic planning, storytelling. But we like our
> lone and exceptional heroes, and the drama of violence and virtue of
> muscle, or at least that’s what we get, over and over; and in the course of
> getting them we don’t get much of a picture of how change happens and what
> our role in it might be, or how ordinary people matter.
> >
> > “Unhappy the land that needs heroes,” is a line of Bertold Brecht’s I’ve
> gone to dozens of times, but now I’m more inclined to think, pity the land
> that thinks it needs a hero, or doesn’t know it has lots and what they look
> like.
> >
> > Woman at War veers off into another plotline, because after all a woman
> is at the center, and, conventionally, women who do anything impersonal
> must be conflicted. Like most movies, it’s more interested in personal
> stuff, or suggests that we do other stuff for purely personal reasons, so
> the question of what the hell you do about planetary destruction just sort
> of fades away.
> >
> > It’s kind of like The Hunger Games, whose author could imagine violently
> overthrowing an old order—and archer Katniss Everdeen is supremely good at
> violence—but not creating a new one that’s different, or doing anything
> political with a larger group that’s not corrupt and hardly worth the
> bother. Thus, at the drab end of The Hunger Games, Everdeen goes off and
> has babies with her man in a horribly rugged-individualist, Little House on
> the Prairie, nuclear-family in the nuclear-ruins way—or if you prefer, a
> Voltairian We Must All Tend Our Gardens way if that’s what Voltaire meant
> at the end of Candide. The archer protagonist of Woman at War also dwindles
> down to the domestic in the end.
> >
> > I’m interested in impersonal stuff too, or convinced that this other
> stuff that’s supposed to be impersonal feeds hearts and souls and is also
> about love and our deepest needs, because what’s deep is also broad. We
> need hope and purpose and membership in a community beyond the nuclear
> family. And this connection is both personally fulfilling, and how we get
> stuff done that needs to be done. Lone hero narratives push one figure into
> the public eye, but they push everyone else back into private life, or at
> least passive life.
> >
> > The legal expert and writer Dahlia Lithwick told me that when she was
> gearing up to write about the women lawyers who have fought and defeated
> the Trump Administration in civil rights case-after-case over the past
> couple of years, various people insisted she should write a book about Ruth
> Bader Ginsburg instead. There are already books and films (and t-shirts and
> coffee mugs galore) about Ginsburg, and these were requests to narrow the
> focus down to one well-known superstar, when Dahlia in her forthcoming book
> is trying to broaden it to take in under-recognized constellations of other
> women lawyers.
> >
> > Which is to say that the problem of the single-handed hero exists in
> non-fiction and news and even history (where it was dubbed the Great Man
> Theory of History) as much as it does in fiction and film. (There’s also a
> Terrible Man Theory of History that, for example, in focusing on Trump
> excuses and ignores the longer history of right-wing destruction and
> delusion.)
> >
> > To concentrate on Ginsburg is to suggest that one transcendently
> exceptional individual at the apex of power is who matters. To look at
> these other lawyers is to suggest that power is dispersed and decisions in
> various courts across the land matter, and so do the lawyers who win them
> and the people who support them.
> >
> > This idea that our fate is handed down to us from above is built into so
> many stories. Even Supreme Court rulings around marriage equality or
> abortion often reflect shifts in values in the broader society, as well as
> the elections that determine who sits on the court. Those broad shifts are
> made by the many, in acts that often go unrecognized. Even if you only
> cherish personal life, you have to recognize the public struggles that
> impact who gets to get married, who gets a living wage and healthcare and
> education and housing and clean drinking water. Also if you’re one of the
> 82 people who burned to death in the Paradise fire last year, the
> consequences of public policy were very personal.
> >
> > This idea that our fate is handed down to us from above is built into so
> many stories.
> > We like heroes and stars and their opposites, though I’m not sure who I
> mean by we, except maybe the people in charge of too many of our stories,
> who are themselves often elites who believe devoutly in elites, which is
> what heroes and stars are often presumed to be. There’s a scorching song by
> Liz Phair I think about whenever I think about heroes. She sang:
> >
> > He’s just a hero in a long line of heroes
> > Looking for something attractive to save
> > They say he rode in on the back of a pick-up
> > And he won’t leave town till you remember his name
> >
> > It’s a caustic revision of the hero as an attention-getter, a
> party-crasher, a fame-seeker, and at least implicitly a troublemaker in the
> guise of a problem-solver. And maybe we as a society are getting tired of
> heroes, and a lot of us are certainly getting tired of overconfident white
> men. Even the idea that the solution will be singular and dramatic and in
> the hands of one person erases that the solutions to problems are often
> complex and many-faceted and arrived at via negotiations. The solution to
> climate change is planting trees, but also transitioning (rapidly) away
> from fossil fuels, but also energy efficiency and significant design
> changes, but also a dozen more things about soil and agriculture and
> transportation and how systems work. There is no solution, but there are
> are many pieces that add up to a solution, or rather to a modulation of the
> problem of climate change.
> >
> > Phair is not the first woman to be caustic about heroes. Ursula K. Le
> Guin writes,
> >
> > When she was planning the book that ended up as Three Guineas, Virginia
> Woolf wrote a heading in her notebook, “Glossary”; she had thought of
> reinventing English according to a new plan, in order to tell a different
> story. One of the entries in this glossary is heroism, defined as
> “botulism.” And hero, in Woolf’s dictionary, is “bottle.” The hero as
> bottle, a stringent re-evaluation. I now propose the bottle as hero.
> >
> > That’s from Le Guin’s famous 1986 essay “The Carrier Bag Theory of
> Fiction,” which notes that though most of early human food was gathered,
> and gathering was often women’s work, it’s hunting that made for dramatic
> stories. And she argues that though the earliest tools have often been
> thought to be weapons in all their sharp-and-pointy deadliness, containers
> (thus her bottle joke‚ were maybe earlier and as, or more,
> important—gender/genital implications intended. Hunting is full of singular
> drama—with my spear I slayed this bear. A group of women gathering grain,
> on the other hand, doesn’t have a singular gesture or target or much drama.
> >
> > “I said it was hard to make a gripping tale of how we wrested the wild
> oats from their husks, I didn’t say it was impossible,” says Le Guin toward
> the end of her essay. Among the Iban people of Borneo, I read recently, the
> men gained status by headhunting, the women by weaving. Headhunting is more
> dramatic, but weaving is itself a model for storytelling’s integration of
> parts and materials into a new whole.
> >
> > Speaking of women, there’s a new drug for postpartum depression (PPD)
> about which some experts pointed out that,
> >
> > “mothers and advocates alike should consider if the drug is a BandAid on
> the larger wound of America’s treatment of  mothers. How would PPD rates be
> affected if we adopted policies that support parents, like subsidized child
> care, paid parental leave, and health care norms that center mothers’
> choices in childbirth and the postpartum period? Pegging the complexities
> of a new mother’s adjustment as a mental illness ignores cultural factors
> that cause new parents to feel unsupported.”
> >
> > That is, maybe we need a thousand acts of kindness and connection,
> rather than deus ex machina drugs to mute the pain of their absence.
> >
> > That’s another part of our rugged individualism and hero culture—the
> idea that all problems are personal and they’re all soluble by personal
> responsibility, or medication that helps you accept what you cannot change,
> when it can be changed but not by you personally. It’s a framework that
> eliminates the possibility of deeper, broader change or of holding
> accountable the powerful who create and benefit from the status quo and its
> myriad forms of harm. The narrative of individual responsibility and change
> protects stasis, whether it’s adapting to inequality or poverty or
> pollution.
> >
> > Our largest problems won’t be solved by heroes. They’ll be solved, if
> they are, by movements, coalitions, civil society.
> >
> > The climate movement, for example, has been first of all a mass effort,
> and if figures like Bill McKibben stand out—well he stands out as the
> co-founder of a global climate action group whose network is in 188
> countries and the guy who keeps saying versions of,  “The most effective
> thing you can do about climate as an individual is stop being an
> individual.” And he’s often spoken of a book that influenced him early on,
> The Pushcart War, a 1964 children’s tale about pushcart vendors organizing
> to protect their own in a territorial war against truck drivers on the
> streets of New York. And—plot spoiler—winning.
> >
> > I was thinking about all this when I was thinking about Sweden’s Greta
> Thunberg, a truly remarkable young woman, someone who has catalyzed climate
> action across the world. But the focus on her may obscure that many
> remarkable young people before her have stood up and spoken passionately
> about climate change. Her words mattered because we responded, and we
> responded in part because the media elevated her as they had not elevated
> her predecessors, and they elevated her because somehow climate change has
> been taken more seriously, climate action has acquired momentum, probably
> due to the actions of tens of thousands or millions who will not be
> credited with this change. She began alone, but publicly, not secretly, and
> that made it possible for her actions to be multiplied by more and more
> others.
> >
> > She’s been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, which is sometimes
> awarded to groups and teams, but awards also tend to single out
> individuals. Some people use their acceptance speech to try to reverse the
> hero myth and thank all the people who were with them or describe
> themselves as members of a tribe or an alliance or a movement. Ada Limon,
> accepting the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry a few weeks
> ago, said “We write with all the good ghosts in our corners. I, for one,
> have never made anything alone, never written a single poem alone” and then
> listed a lot of people who helped or who mattered or who didn’t get to
> write poetry.
> >
> > A general is not much without an army, and social change is not even
> modeled on generals and armies, because the outstanding figures get others
> to act willingly, not by command. We would do well to call them catalysts
> rather than leaders. Martin Luther King was not the Civil Rights Movement
> and Cesar Chavez was not the farmworker rights movement, and to mistake
> them for that denies the multitudes the recognition they deserve, but more
> importantly denies us strategic understandings when we need them most.
> Which begins with our own power and ends with how change works.
> >
> > In the wake of Robert Mueller’s long-awaited report, a lot of people
> reminded us that counting on Mueller to be the St. George who slew our
> dirtbag dragon was a way of writing off our own obligation and capacity.
> Lithwick said it best a month before the investigation wrapped up:
> >
> > “The prevailing ethos seems to be that so long as there is somebody else
> out there who is capable of Doing Something, the rest of us are free to
> desist. And for the most part, the person deemed to be Doing Something is
> Robert Mueller.”
> >
> > Leaders beget followers, and followers are people who’ve surrendered
> some of their capacities to think and to act. Unfortunate the land whose
> citizens pass the buck to a hero.
> >
> > The standard action movie narrative require one exceptional person in
> the foreground, which requires the rest of the characters to be on the
> spectrum from useless to clueless to wicked, plus a few moderately-helpful
> auxiliary characters. There are not a lot of movies about magnificent
> collective action, something I noticed when I wrote about what actually
> happens in sudden catastrophes—fires, floods, heat waves, freak storms, the
> kind of calamity that we will see more and more as the age of climate
> change takes hold.
> >
> > Disaster movies begin with a sudden upset in the order of things—the
> tower becomes a towering inferno, the meteor heads toward earth, the earth
> shakes—and then smooths it all over with a kind of father-knows-best
> here-comes-a-hero plotline of rescuing helpless women and subduing vicious
> men. Patriarchal authority itself is shown as the solution to disasters, or
> a sort of drug to make us feel secure despite them.
> >
> > One of the joys of Liz Phair’s song is that she lets us recognize
> heroism as a disaster itself. I found out in the research for what became
> my 2009 book, A Paradise Built in Hell, that institutional authorities
> often behave badly in disasters, in part because they assume that the rest
> of us will behave badly in the power vacuum disasters bring on, and thus
> they too-often turn humanitarian relief into aggressive policing, often in
> protection of property and the status quo rather than disaster victims. But
> ordinary people generally behave magnificently, taking care of each other
> and improvising rescues and the conditions of survival, connecting with
> each other in ways they might not in everyday life, and sometimes finding
> in that connection something so valuable and meaningful that their stories
> about who they were and met, and what they did, shine with joy.
> >
> > That is, I found in disasters a window onto what so many of us really
> want and don’t get, a need we hardly name or recognize. There are not a lot
> of movies that can even imagine this profound emotion I think of as public
> love—this sense of meaning, purpose, power, belonging to a community, a
> society, a city, a movement. I’ve talked to survivors of 9/11, Hurricane
> Katrina, read stories of earlier disasters, blitzes, and found that emotion
> swimming up through the wreckage and found that people are ravenous for it.
> >
> > William James said of the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, “Surely the
> cutting edge of all our usual misfortunes comes from their character of
> loneliness.”
> >
> > That is, if I lose my home, I’m cast out among those who remain
> comfortable, but if we all lose our homes in the earthquake, we’re in this
> together. One of my favorite sentences from a 1906 survivor is this:
> >
> > “Then when the dynamite explosions were making the night noisy and
> keeping everybody awake and anxious, the girls or some of the refugees
> would start playing the piano, and Billy Delaney and other folks would
> start singing; so that the place became quite homey and sociable,
> considering it was on the sidewalk, outside the high school, and the town
> all around it was on fire.”
> >
> > I don’t know what Billy Delaney or the girls sang, or what stories the
> oat gatherers Le Guin writes about might have told. But I do have a
> metaphor, which is itself a kind of carrier bag—and metaphor literally
> means to carry something beyond, carrying being the basic thing language
> does, language being great nets we weave to hold meaning. Jonathan Jones,
> an indigenous Wiradjuri/Kamilaroi Australian artist, has an installation—a
> great infinity-loop figure eight of feathered objects on a curving wall in
> the Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art in Brisbane that mimics a
> murmuration, one of those great flocks of birds in flight that seems to
> swell and contract and shift as the myriad individual creatures climb and
> bank and turn together, not crashing into each other, not drifting apart.
> >
> > From a distance Jones’s objects look like birds; up close they are
> traditional tools of stick and stone with feathers attached, tools of
> making taking flight. The feathers were given to him by hundreds who
> responded to the call he put out, a murmuration of gatherers.
> >
> > “I’m interested in this idea of collective thinking,” he told a
> journalist.
> >
> > “How the formation of really beautiful patterns and arrangements in the
> sky can help us potentially start to understand how we exist in this
> country, how we operate together, how we can all call ourselves
> Australians. That we all have our own little ideas which can somehow come
> together to make something bigger.”
> >
> > What are human murmurations, I wondered? They are, speaking of choruses,
> in Horton Hears a Who, the tiny Whos of Whoville, who find that if every
> last one of them raises their voice, they become loud enough to save their
> home. They are a million and a half young people across the globe on March
> 15 protesting climate change; coalitions led by Native people holding back
> fossil fuel pipelines across Canada;the lawyers and others who converged on
> airports all over the US on January 29, 2017, to protest the Muslim ban.
> >
> > They are the hundreds who turned out in Victoria, BC, to protect a
> mosque there during Friday prayers the week after the shooting in
> Christchurch, New Zealand. My cousin Jessica was one of them, and she wrote
> about how deeply moving it was for her,
> >
> > “At the end, when prayers were over, and the mosque was emptying onto
> the street, if felt like a wedding, a celebration of love and joy. We all
> shook hands and hugged and spoke kindly to each other—Muslim, Jew,
> Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, atheist…”
> >
> > We don’t have enough art to make us see and prize these human
> murmurations even when they are all around us, even when they are doing the
> most important work on earth.
> >
> > ************
> San Francisco writer, historian, and activist Rebecca Solnit is the author
> of twenty-something books about geography, community, art, politics, hope,
> and feminism and the author, most recently of Call Them By Their True
> Names: American Crises (and Essays) and Drowned River: The Death and
> Rebirth of Glen Canyon on the Colorado.
> ________________________________________
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